Sustainable seafood | WWF South Africa

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Sustainable seafood

© Mark Chipps

Seafood is one of the most traded food commodities worldwide. With the human population more than doubling since the 1960s, the amount of seafood consumed per year has also doubled. Unfortunately, wild-capture fisheries have been unable to keep up.

What is the issue?

Globally a number of important wild fish populations are depleted, yet large-scale fishing continues unabated. This has also led to an increase in fish farming, though this has its own environmental impacts.

Fishing activity in general has a damaging effect on our marine environment due to the non-selectivity of fishing methods, i.e. where one species is the intended catch, other sea creatures are inadvertently caught and killed as bycatch.

At a business level, we need to recognise these natural constraints and shift from a focus on volume from diverse suppliers to one of responsible sourcing from sustainable suppliers. We need to ensure solutions are in place to help identified species recover back to healthy levels. 

​What are we doing?

WWF works to drive positive change across the full spectrum of the seafood supply chain from the fisheries and seafood suppliers to consumers. 

How do we do this?

We work at multiple levels along the seafood supply chain. We reach the fishing sector by working with the retailers who buy their catch. Through a voluntary business scheme, we work with companies who are committed to responsibly sourcing and procuring seafood. 

This includes commercial and small-scale fisheries as well as the aquaculture companies and those who sell seafood: the supermarkets, retailers, restaurants, hotels and other suppliers.

In the SA seafood industry, WWF works with five major retailers, two major restaurant franchises, two major suppliers and one hotel chain. Plus we empower seafood-lovers to make responsible choices and to encourage their favourite retailer and restaurants to do the same.

​Who do we work with?

From those who catch fish at sea to those of us who enjoy eating seafood in its many forms, we work with fishers and fishing crew, big corporate CEOs and sustainability managers, plus chefs, hotel school students, restaurant staff and ocean-loving citizens.

How did it start?

The beginnings of consumer awareness around sustainability of seafood started in 2004. Soon after in 2005, WWF’s Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) launched. This was South Africa’s first consumer guide, a list showing the science-based status of different species of seafood using an easy to understand traffic light system of red, orange or green.

By 2008, WWF realised there was an opportunity to work with the seafood retailers to shift the procuring of seafood. To turn the tide on irresponsible ocean harvesting, WWF started the voluntary Retailer/Supplier Participation Scheme to support seafood traders, as well as fisheries and fish farms.

​What are the big wins?

  1. WWF-SASSI has been around for over a decade and has seen an incredible increase in support from the general public

  2. Since the launch of the FishMS text service, there has been over 10 000 requests per year made to check on the sustainability status of seafood.

  3. Of South Africa’s six major retailer groups, five have come on board with self-set commitments to procure and sell sustainable seafood.